It was a case of repeat and reward for Coco Gauff, as the teenage sensation replicated her Wimbledon 2019 first-round triumph over Venus Williams with a 7-6(5) 6-3 victory on Monday to start her Australian Open main draw debut in style.
In one of the most spectacular shocks of 2019, Gauff dismissed one of her childhood idols on the lawns of SW19 in straight sets, igniting ‘Cocomania’ across social media.
Fast-forward to Melbourne and the 15-year-old, featuring in her first major on ranking merit, edged a turbulent opening set before racing into the second round to tackle world No.74 Sorana Cirstea.
“She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age,” reflected Williams, praising her compatriot. “I think the sky's the limit for her.”
Gauff was in “shock” having drawn Venus so soon again in a major first round, but felt far more prepared than she was in London.
“I definitely was more confident this time. I think I was used to playing on big courts, so I guess the size of the crowd didn't startle me as much as last time. Definitely a bit more positive coming into this match this time around,” said Gauff, who couldn’t quite believe it was a Wimbledon rematch Down Under.
“I was really nervous before today’s match. That was really difficult, she played really well. It was hard to get aggressive against her. I was trying to put the ball in play, gut it out. I’m glad I was able to get through it. Now I’m feeling great.
“Obviously I look up to them (Venus and Serena Williams). Every time, even just walking by them, I have to remember that even though they're my idols, they're also going to be my opponents sometimes.”
Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, and Gauff received a great reception from the packed Margaret Court Arena crowd, with the fearless youngster rising to the occasion from the outset.
Williams relinquished her opening service game with loose strikes, whereas Gauff hammered down a brace of aces to set the tone en route to a quick 3-1 advantage.
Playing in her first match since Tianjin in November, world No.55 Williams appeared slightly off the pace. However, she began to step into the court, progressing forward to pose questions to Gauff’s dominance.
The two-time Australian Open finalist dismissed three Gauff set points from 5-3 down, and then teased the errors from the teenager's racquet to restore scoreboard parity.
A tiebreak was required, and Gauff gained the momentum with brave play. Venus rallied once again, this time from 3-0 down to level at 5-5. Hitting the second serve with venom, Gauff’s backhand then sent Williams off balance, before she took the set in an enthralling 62 minutes.
The second set featured a familiar start as world No.67 Gauff gained the momentum to launch a 3-1 lead with impressive composure.
This time, Venus couldn’t quite conjure a comeback, and the 15-year-old soared into the second round. Cirstea will present a tough challenge, having prevailed past 32nd seed Barbora Strycova 6-2 7-6(5) earlier on Monday.
Mentally, Gauff’s next challenge is how to adapt to making the transformation from surprise packet to known quantity.
“I feel like my mindset has changed since US Open,” she said.
“I feel like I was on edge every match just because everyone was talking about US Open before Wimbledon even ended.
“I guess I came to the realisation that I need to play my game, not worry about what people think of me. I still have a lot more to improve, before I become like one of those big names.”
Two wins over Venus Williams in majors means Coco’s name is already big – and getting bigger.